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D.O. carefully got the members’ opinions on L and Changjo. He didn’t want to raise suspicions, and he didn’t want for Suho to notice. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to think that he didn’t trust Suho’s judgment. Especially Suho.
Chanyeol and Baekhyun’s opinions he disregarded altogether. They were thinking with their cocks; all they cared about was that Changjo was a fantastic lay, and that they couldn’t have sex with L even though they wanted to.
Xiumin was suspicious; he thought that L and Changjo were after Suho’s fame or money or something. Not that they were malicious, just that they had some ulterior motive.
Lay and Chen were trusting; ultimately, they believed in Suho.
Sehun didn’t know what to think. He wanted Suho to be happy, but none of them knew L very well. Suho was smart, a good hyung, and a strong leader, but seemed too inclined to let Changjo get away with things. D.O. pointed out that Suho let Sehun get away with things, too, and Sehun said, “No, he doesn’t. And if he does, I know how far I’ll go. I don’t know how far Changjo will go, but it seems like it would be pretty fucking far, right?”
Kai was really wary about L and kind of inclined to agree with Sehun. “Suho spoils Changjo like Changjo’s one of us. It doesn’t make me jealous, or anything,” like D.O. would ever think that, “but it’s a little… If it were Ricky, it would be better, but I don’t know about Changjo.”
Sitting alone with Kai in their bedroom, D.O. said, “Suho hyung goes out with them alone, and he sees them privately at restaurants, or he goes to Infinite’s dorm. When he brings them here, they go in his room and close the door. We hardly ever get to see him with them, to see how they act around him.”
“He talks about how cute they are and how funny they are,” Kai said. “I see that with Changjo, sometimes, but L sunbae? Suho hyung talks about how much he laughs and how much he likes skinship, but that’s not a side that L sunbae’s ever shown me.”
D.O. wanted someone to talk to L and Changjo, to find out what they were really like and what they were really up to. But he didn’t know how to do it without making Suho feel like his own members were checking up on his personal life, like they didn’t trust him.
His other problem was that he didn’t know who to ask to have the conversation. Both L and Changjo were sunbaes. L didn’t seem inclined to listen to anyone, really; L didn’t care about just anybody’s opinion. And he got the feeling that if he talked to Changjo, he’d just be told whatever Changjo thought that he wanted to hear.
Who would get an honest response from them? Their leaders? The idea of approaching C.A.P. seemed possible, but incredibly awkward. The idea of approaching Sunggyu was even worse. The real test of a leader wasn’t how he acted on variety shows, it was how quickly his members jumped when he spoke. Somehow, C.A.P. miraculously wrangled those wild kids in Teen Top, and that was not a job that D.O. would volunteer for. Sunggyu controlled his members, bullied them, adored them, mocked them, cuddled them, played with them, and occasionally herded them like sheep or led them like a duck with baby chicks. Some leaders ruled by example, others by fear, others by love, and Sunggyu seemed to have opted for some weird mix that worked perfectly for Infinite but made D.O. grateful to have Suho instead.
Maybe there was someone out there D.O. could turn to, but he didn’t want to bring some outside party into this. He was stuck with finding some EXO, Teen Top, or Infinite member. And he couldn’t think of one he could turn to for this. Which meant that he was going to have to do it himself.
He considered asking Xiumin for help; Xiumin was at least a hyung. But once Suho found out about all of this, he could play off his own concern as a worried dongsaeng. Suho might think that Xiumin was undermining the leader’s authority, or something; it might look bad. And while L and Changjo didn’t seem likely to listen to D.O., they honestly didn’t seem any more likely to listen to Xiumin, hyung or not.
Aware that this entire operation was futile, D.O. pushed ahead with it, anyway. He decided to start with Changjo, hoping that conversation might be marginally more productive. He called Changjo and arranged to meet on a night that Suho had another schedule. Then he asked Changjo not to mention it to Suho. He claimed that it was kind of a surprise. Changjo sounded intrigued and agreed.
They met at one of the cafes where Suho liked to take Changjo; he figured that it was a Suho-sanctioned place to talk. They went upstairs, to the deserted second floor.
For a few minutes, Changjo acted cool and adult. Then he leaned forward with an adorable smile, his eyes bright with mischief. “What’s the surprise for Suho hyung?”
D.O. wondered if he should have asked Kai or Sehun to come. Or L.Joe. “You like Suho hyung, right?”
Changjo nodded. “Sure.”
“He doesn’t have a lot of free time, but he spends a lot of it with you. The two of you have gotten close.”
“Yeah.” Changjo looked puzzled.
“Suho hyung is in a really high-profile position, among idols. There’s a lot of attention on him. A lot of people want to get close to him, not just to be his friend.”
“Well, yeah. Everybody wants to be where the money is, and right now, that’s EXO. I think he’s handling it well. He’s too nice, he should tell more people to back off, but he’s not going to let just anybody take advantage of him.”
“He has a lot of things that people want.” D.O. held Changjo’s gaze. “I was wondering what you want.”
Changjo frowned. “From Suho hyung?” For a second, he looked disgusted with D.O., like he might get up and walk out. “What is this? What are you asking me?”
Just that quickly, D.O. had gone from a hyung that Changjo was cooperating with to a hoobae that Changjo was willing to make an enemy out of. That changeable nature was part of what made D.O. so worried for Suho’s sake. Changjo’s emotional loyalty seemed questionable, at best. “If we’re both looking out for Suho hyung, then we’re on the same side. I just don’t want him to get hurt.”
“You think that I’d hurt him? You don’t even know me.” Changjo’s gaze flickered over D.O. in a contemptuous sneer, and he got up, pushing his chair aside with one foot. He moved much more gracefully than D.O. had expected, in perfect, elegant control. D.O. wondered why he didn’t move that way more often. But Sehun had already warned him that Changjo liked to play with people’s expectations.
Changjo was turning away. “Changjo,” D.O. said at a controlled volume, moving after him swiftly but trying to look ordinary in case there were, for all they knew, cameras or hidden witnesses around. “Wait.” He turned, staring at D.O. with a hard, mulish expression. “I know that you’re scary,” D.O. said quietly. “Your members have said things about you that people don’t just say about any maknae.” Everybody said that their own maknae was the worst; it was an easy joke. But Chunji said things like, “Changjo likes him too much to do anything to him.” What did that mean, what might Changjo do? What had Changjo done to other people, to make Chunji say that?
Changjo’s upper lip twitched into that sneer again, and he backed up like he was about to walk off. It was only one step, but his footwork was like Taemin’s.
“I hope that Suho hyung is important to you,” D.O. said quietly. “He’s important to me, too. He’s been through a lot, and he’s under a lot of pressure, and you’re one of the things that make him the happiest, so I want everything to be good between you. It would help me a lot if you’d tell me that I can trust you with my leader’s heart.”
Changjo looked at him hard, in silence, for a long time. Then, “Not here,” Changjo said, and turned, going down the stairs.
D.O. followed. The maknae was gone again; that cool, adult Changjo was back. Self-assured, never checking to make sure that D.O. was behind him, his chin up, his shoulders back, he crossed the street and went into a bookstore. D.O. trailed him up to the third floor and into a bathroom. The bathroom held no stalls, only a single toilet, and as soon as D.O. was in, he locked the door. Resting a hand on the edge of the sink, he studied D.O. again. “Okay. We can talk here. Tell me what you’re going to do if I don’t prove myself to you. What’s the game, what’s at stake?”
Was this the real Changjo? Was there a real Changjo? Kind of impressed, D.O. was starting to see why Teen Top said those things. He was more leery of Changjo than ever, but he also hoped more earnestly that Changjo really did like Suho, because he’d rather have someone like this on Suho’s side than not. “I’ll tell Suho hyung that I don’t trust you, and I’ll ask him to stop seeing you. I don’t want to ruin things between our teams, but if you’re not safe, then he shouldn’t be close with you anymore.”
“Who else is in this, Kai hyung?”
D.O. wasn’t used to having conversations like this, and he didn’t know how to be cagey on the fly. “There’s no one else in this, I’m here by myself. But there are other members who are worried about your intentions.”
Changjo nodded. “Kai hyung, Sehun hyung, and Xiumin hyung?”
Shit. How did he know that? “Yeah.”
Looking thoughtful, still gazing at D.O., he drummed his fingers on the edge of the sink. “I like your members. You’re some of my favorite hoobaes, and I’m glad that we’re all close. I’m glad that our teams spend so much time together. It’s been a lot of fun for everybody. If anything happened to you, I’d have your back.”
If anything happened? “What would happen?”
He shrugged. “Problems. Scandals. You have a lot of fans, and your company has a lot of money, but that means a lot of antis, too. Do you think that SM can shield you from everything?”
D.O. had no idea what was happening here. “Are you threatening me?” he asked, honestly wanting to know.
A hint of a smile played at the corners of Changjo’s mouth. “Relax, hyung. We’re just talking.”
“Right.” He would relax when he wasn’t locked in a strange bathroom with someone noticeably bigger and stronger than he was who seemed just a little bit sociopathic and smarter than he’d realized.
“I like you, hyung. I think that we should get along.”
“That’s good,” he said warily.
“It’s easier for our teams if everyone’s friendly, right? It makes things easier for Suho hyung, and for L.Joe hyung and Sehun hyung.”
“Yes.” He held very still, watching Changjo, waiting to see where this might go.
“You want to know that you can trust me with your leader’s heart.” Changjo laced his fingers behind his head and breathed in, gazing upward. “How do I feel about Suho hyung,” he mused. “How. Do I feel. About Suho hyung.” He sucked his cheeks in, then released them. “Well, I like him,” he decided. “I want him to be happy, too, we have that in common, that’s good. It’s a tricky business, the music industry,” he said, swinging his arms down. He leaned his back against the wall, his hands in his pockets. “You have to know where you stand with people, right? You have to know who’s really looking out for you. Like, me,” he said, touching his own chest. “I have a hierarchy. There’s my family and my members and Andy hyung, up here, on top.” He gestured, drawing a line parallel with his forehead. “Then, people I’m close to, people I’d look out for if I needed to.” He drew a line under that, at the level of his nose. Then he said, “No, farther down, down here,” and he drew a line near the level of his sternum. “For me, it’s a big gap. And then there are people I like to deal with and don’t want bad things to happen to, down here, and on like that. So, you’re here.” He gestured at chest level. “I’d have your back, I’d help you if you needed it.”
“Thank you,” he said slowly. He felt like he was watching a performance; this was all leading up to something.
“Do you remember that male idol group with that ‘answer me, answer you’ song? They had those yellow outfits and that guy with blue hair?”
D.O. ran the lyrics through his mind and suddenly recalled the group. “They debuted the year before you.” He hadn’t heard anything about them in a long time. He couldn’t remember a scandal. Maybe their company hadn’t been able to scrape together the money to keep them going.
“I don’t see them around anymore,” Changjo said.
What. What was he. Was he implying something? Slowly, D.O. asked, “Why don’t we see them around anymore?”
Changjo smiled, putting his hands in his pockets again, his shoulders relaxed. “There was this one time, I remember, they were at this festival with us, we were performing after them.” He gazed at the opposite wall like it was a really good memory. “And I walked in the bathroom, and their leader was in there. You remember their leader? Tall guy, lots of muscles, bad nose job?”
D.O. nodded. “I remember.”
“Yeah.” Changjo looked at D.O., and he wasn’t smiling anymore. There was no joy anywhere near his expression, like happiness didn’t dare to exist around him. “He was bothering Niel hyung.”
Oh, god. D.O. didn’t have the guts to ask for details.
Changjo relaxed again, smiling just a little, looking at the wall again. “Haven’t seen them at any festivals lately. I guess they’re not even in the business, anymore.” He shifted casually, crossing his ankles. “But like I said, for me, some people are up here.” He gestured up near his hairline. “Like Niel hyung and the rest of my members.” He looked at D.O. and slowly drew a circle in the air, up at that same high level. “Suho hyung is up here, too.” He smiled. It was a smile full of a lot of meaning, and a lot of intensity, and no actual cheer. “I want Suho hyung to be happy. So do you, right? It’s good that we have that in common. I would be sad if I felt like someone close to him, someone he trusted, might hurt him.”
D.O. didn’t have to ask if he was being threatened this time. “I see.”
Changjo smiled again, easily, like they were having a good time. “That’s good, hyung. I’m glad that you understand.”
On his way back to the dorm, D.O. slumped in the backseat of a taxi and stared at the ceiling, unblinking.
“You know people who are up to no good? Changjo’s up to no good, like, every hour of the day. It’s fine if he’s on your side. He’s loyal to Teen Top, so. It’s okay around us. But I wouldn’t let him date anyone I cared about unless I really trusted the situation. If Changjo was really in love, or if the guy could handle him, it would be okay. But I’d recommend any other member first. Changjo’s fifty percent hardworking maknae and fifty percent devil. Why? Is this about Suho hyung? Eh, then don’t worry about it. Changjo likes him too much to do anything to him.”
He understood Chunji’s words in a new way, now. “It’s fine if he’s on your side.” The blithe, careless way that Chunji had said it seemed significant. Chunji took Changjo for granted. As far as Chunji was concerned, Changjo was harmless. “He’s loyal to Teen Top, so. It’s okay around us.” It wasn’t okay around other people; to outsiders, Changjo was a menace, a barely sheathed weapon. But with Teen Top, there was nothing to worry about. And Changjo placed Suho on the same plane as Teen Top. Chunji seemed to know it, too. Chunji’s dismissive tone said it all. “Eh, then don’t worry about it. Changjo likes him too much to do anything to him.”
Changjo was not the kind of person that D.O. wanted near Suho.
Suho was under a lot of pressure, and EXO was under a lot of scrutiny. Scandals could arise anywhere, and if they didn’t crop up on their own, antis could create them.
SM would shield them; that was what a company was for. But it might be nice to have someone looking out for Suho. Not an SM employee with a paycheck at stake, but someone with a more personal investment. Someone a little bit terrifying and a little bit merciless. Someone who’d protect Suho like he’d protect his own flesh and blood.
It didn’t seem smart to have a loaded gun just sitting around. Was the way that Changjo cosplayed a hardworking, ordinary maknae the most disturbing aspect of this whole situation, or was it a reassuring sign that the majority of the time, Changjo really was just an ordinary kid? Was he a rabid dog who might go off at any moment, or was he a well-trained, well-disciplined attack dog who could be trusted not to bite the wrong hand?
When D.O. walked into the dorm, Kai got up from the couch, coming toward him. He shook his head and went to Suho’s room. “Hyung.”
Setting his phone aside, Suho smiled. “Dongsaeng-ah, you’re back.”
“Yeah.” He sat beside Suho on the bed. “I saw Changjo.”
Suho’s smile was bright. “Yes, he just called. He told me how well you treated him, taking him out for coffee.”
D.O. stared at Suho. “He did?”
“Yes.” Looking proud, Suho put his arm around D.O. “He said that you’ve been a good hyung to him. I’m glad to see that my members behave so well and are so well-liked. Our Changjo may be a sunbae, but he’s a dongsaeng, too, and it’s important for us to set a good example.”
Suho hadn’t been this proud of him since he’d gotten his last acting role. “Yeah. Did he say anything else?”
“Ah.” Suho’s smile was bright, fond, and embarrassed. One phone call made him this happy? He caressed the side of D.O.’s face, and his gaze flickered to D.O.’s mouth with a kind of irrepressible desire D.O. only saw once every eight days with the door shut. “Maybe he mentioned how handsome you look tonight.” With an embarrassed laugh, he stroked D.O.’s cheek again. “But you’re this good-looking every day, your fans know that.”
Suho wanted to kiss him. Tonight wasn’t his turn. But Suho wanted to kiss him. The door was open. But Suho wanted to kiss him. And he kind of wanted to kiss Suho back. And Suho was still caressing him and looking at his mouth.
Wondering, D.O. slowly leaned in, his lips parting.
Suho kissed him. A press of lips, right on the mouth. And then Suho hopped up and was suddenly several feet away from the bed. “I’ll check on the other members,” Suho said, and disappeared.
Amazed, D.O. touched his lips.
Suho had just kissed him. On the mouth. With the door open. And it wasn’t even his night.
D.O. sat there for a moment, processing what had just happened. It had felt really nice. After a while, Kai walked in and stood there, looking at him. “D.O. hyung, you okay?”
It was Changjo. He knew it. Changjo had said something to Suho about him, had pushed some kind of button, had nudged Suho toward him. A minor miracle had happened, and Changjo had caused it.
Finally lowering his hand from his lips, D.O. flopped onto his back and stared up at the ceiling, unblinking. “Teen Top’s Changjo is very effective.”
Kai sat beside him. “Effective?”
“I think that he makes sure that he gets what he wants.”
“But he wants Suho hyung. Shouldn’t we stop him?”
Kai’s question probably should have been, “Can we stop him?” D.O. thought about it. “How well do you think that Chunji knows Changjo? As well as you and I know each other?”
“Yeah. Maybe better. Chunji hyung pays so much attention to his members, I think that by now, he knows everything about them that there is to know.”
“Chunji says that there’s nothing to worry about.”
“You talked to Chunji hyung? What did Changjo say?”
“He said that he cares about Suho hyung the way that he cares about his family and his members.”
“Then it’s okay? Do you believe him?”
He thought about how disgusted Changjo had been, when he’d started the conversation. He thought about the look of disgust on Changjo’s face. “You think that I’d hurt him? You don’t even know me.” Would that version of Changjo ever come out and speak to him again, or would he only ever see the cute maknae from now on? Was the cute maknae a mask that Changjo put on, or was the cute maknae real, while the cool adult was the armor Changjo wore to protect the maknae inside? Was the real Changjo somewhere else under all of those layers?
The only question he didn’t have was whether or not Changjo would be loyal to Suho. When Changjo said, “I want Suho hyung to be happy,” he believed it. And he could only guess what would happen to anyone who got in the way of that happiness.
“He won’t hurt Suho,” D.O. said. “I think that our leader has a new bodyguard.”
After his adventure with Changjo, D.O. couldn’t predict what would happen if he talked to L. But while Changjo had turned out to be a lot more complex than he’d realized, L was only an arrogant sunbae. This talk would have to be anticlimactic, after the first.
It took D.O. forever to arrange to meet up with L, mainly because L would never agree to see him, stopped answering calls, and stopped replying to texts. Eventually he took a taxi over to the broadcasting station while Infinite was there, and showed up in their dressing room.
They were understandably surprised to see him, and Woohyun teased him about being in public with no make-up on. He asked if he could talk to L in private, and L said, “No.”
“Do you want to talk?” Dongwoo asked. “Should we leave?”
“No,” L said. “Don’t go anywhere, D.O.’s leaving.”
D.O. sat beside L on the couch. “I’m sorry, hyung, this won’t take long.”
L looked at him emotionlessly.
“I’m sorry, sunbaenim, this won’t take long,” he said more formally.
L scoffed and crossed his arms over his chest, looking away again.
“I only want to ask you about Suho hyung.”
L didn’t respond at all to that.
D.O. was going to have to leave. Or else he was going to have to have this whole conversation in front of six sunbaes. At least there were no stylists around, and the manager had walked out when he’d come in. “It’s nice that you and Suho hyung have become so close.”
Making a frustrated noise, L rubbed both hands through his hair, tousling it. Then he laughed and gave D.O. a bewildered smile. “Ya, what do you want? What about Suho hyung, what?”
Having L actually smiling at him was a relief. “There’s a lot of attention on him, and there are a lot of people trying to get his attention. People seem to want things from him, and I wondered if there was anything in particular that you wanted.”
L burst into laughter, leaning back. Then, chuckling, he sat forward, his elbows on his knees. D.O. was glad that he was amused and not offended.
Then, abruptly, L fell silent and glared at him. “Get out.”
The sudden change in mood startled D.O. Was this real?
Slowly, L leaned closer, moving toward him with a sharp, tight smile, eyes glittering. “Not going?”
Sensing danger, D.O. got up.
Sungjong opened the door.
L looked like he was thinking about which parts of D.O. would be the easiest to target first.
It was frustrating to feel like he was handling all of these conversations so badly, but he didn’t know a better way. It was awkward to approach sunbaes and hyungs and accuse them of having bad motives, but wasn’t the fact that everyone was so strange and sensitive and threatening a good reason not to trust them? Normal people didn’t act like this. Being insulted or confused was natural, but Changjo and L took everything too far.
Maybe that was why Suho had adopted them. Because they were like this, and they needed him. But the fact that Suho was good for them didn’t mean that they were good for Suho.
On the first floor of the broadcasting building, he moved into a corner and texted Changjo. What do you think of Infinite’s L?
Changjo replied quickly. Ah, that hyung? Don’t worry. If there’s a problem, I’ll get rid of him. Until then, Suho hyung is happy.
“Here you are. I thought that you might be gone.” Woohyun walked up with an easy smile. “Not leaving yet? Do you have time to talk?”
“Sure.” He liked Woohyun; he wished that Woohyun were the one Suho had become close to. Then he wouldn’t have to run around the city making a fool of himself like this.
They went upstairs and into an empty dressing room. “You’re worried about L and Suho’s friendship?” Woohyun asked, taking a seat on the couch.
Sitting beside Woohyun, he nodded. Woohyun had on just enough eyeliner and lip gloss to look drop-dead gorgeous, and had just enough shirt buttons undone to look masculine and sexy, and being this close was doing weird, fluttery things to his stomach.
“I think that it’s not hard to understand. It’s like you said, isn’t it?”
He loved the way Woohyun looked at him. So inviting, so encouraging.
“A lot of people want things from Suho, and a lot of people want things from L, too. But they don’t want anything from each other, so it’s comfortable between them. They don’t have to worry about each other. It can be tough when it seems like everyone wants something from you. Are you worried that people might use your leader?”
“It’s like that for L, too. People use him, too. Some people just brush those things off, and some people say, ‘Ah, I see, then I’ll use you, too,’ but for L, it’s not easy. It hurts him a lot. I think that’s why he likes Suho so much, because he doesn’t have to worry about those things. Suho doesn’t only call him up to ask for a favor. Suho likes L for L, and that’s all.”
He hadn’t seen it that way. He’d been thinking that L might want to take advantage of Suho. But L was used to being in Suho’s position, the one with things people wanted, the one being used. L could be comfortable around Suho because Suho was someone who didn’t need him for any of those things. They were drawn to each other because they weren’t using each other. “I understand,” he said slowly.
“Don’t worry about our L.” Woohyun’s smile was so warm and teasing that he smiled back, already feeling better. “He only shows you the chic side. He’s cosplaying, don’t believe any of it. He’s just a soft, goofy, clumsy kid. Suho knows all about it.”
D.O. had heard comments like that before. He wished that he could meet the fun, cute, cuddly L that Infinite knew. Thinking of the ways people hid themselves away and showed false fronts to the world, he thought of Changjo. “What do you think of Changjo?”
Woohyun chuckled, and D.O. wanted to touch his smile lines. “Shinhwa Changjo or the little boy?”
“The idol,” he said, laughing. “Teen Top’s Changjo.”
“Ah.” Pursing his lips cutely, Woohyun thought about it, then shrugged and smiled again. “L says that he’s annoying, and Sunggyu hyung always says not to trust him. But I like him. His members say that he’s up to no good, but it’s not like that. He’s always up to something interesting. I’ve never seen him like someone I didn’t like, too, and I’ve never seen him hurt someone who didn’t deserve it.”
D.O. felt his eyes widen. “You’ve seen him hurt people?”
Woohyun laughed again. “I’ve said too much? Don’t listen to me, I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
D.O. couldn’t just let it go that easily. “Do you mean physically? Get in fights with people?”
He was smiling, his eyes darting from side to side. “Yes, that, too.” He patted D.O.’s thigh, and as soon as his hand lifted, D.O. wished that it would come back. “You see Suho at the dorm, and after hard days, and after long nights. To you, he’s a precious hyung. You know his weaknesses and his mistakes. Don’t see only that side of him. He’s a strong man and a good leader. He’s had to deal with a lot, already. He looks pretty and spoiled and easy, but he’s tough. He can take care of himself. After everything that’s happened, going from twelve to nine, do you think that he’d trust someone lightly? I think that he’d be more careful than ever. He won’t expose his heart to just anyone these days.”
D.O. felt his shoulders relax. He’d needed to hear that. “I get it.”
“It’s good that you’re so loyal to him.” Woohyun was getting up; D.O. stood, too, wishing that he didn’t have to go just yet. “You’re lucky to have such a good leader. Mine’s awful.”
“Yours is in love with you,” D.O. pointed out.
Woohyun grinned. “I didn’t say that he had bad taste!”
D.O. was barely in the dorm before Baekhyun rushed past him, whispering, “Get an alibi.” He only had time to blink and look after Baekhyun before Suho walked up, looking displeased. “You went to the broadcasting station?”
How did Suho know that? “L sunbae talked to you?”
Suho frowned. “No, he didn’t say anything about it. What happened, why were you there?”
“I, uh, I wanted to talk to Woohyun hyung.”
Suho didn’t like that answer. “About what?”
Suho’s frown deepened. “The rules should be clear. It’s one thing to go out sometimes when you have permission. Going off on your own to meet our friends on other teams isn’t allowed, especially at a broadcasting station. You can’t be so careless. Go to your room and we’ll talk about it in a few minutes.”
Shit. D.O. hesitated, but he knew that getting the truth out now would be better than Suho finding out some other way. And it might lessen his punishment. “I went to talk to L sunbae. About you. You’ve been getting so close to him, but we barely know him, and I wanted to find out what kind of guy he was.”
“Why would you do something like that?”
“Don’t misunderstand. I didn’t want you to get hurt. You care about him a lot, but you see a side of him that the rest of us don’t.”
Suho looked bewildered. “You went to get to know him better? Why would you go to a place like that when they have a schedule?”
D.O. had really hoped to avoid this conversation. “I wanted to find out what his intentions were. With you.”
“Intentions!” Suho stared at D.O. in unhappy amazement. “Are we getting engaged? Are you my father? Am I your son or your leader? Why would you go to a sunbae team in the middle of a broadcasting station to ask my dongsaeng about his intentions?!”
D.O. was starting to get that nauseated feeling he got whenever he genuinely upset Suho. He felt sick with guilt and uncomfortable in his own skin. “You’re my leader,” he admitted.
“A leader who can’t take care of himself?” Suho demanded. “A leader who needs his own members to look after him? Who’s hyung here? Who’s dongsaeng? Should I speak more formally to you? Do I need you to approve all of my friendships for me?”
He’d humiliated Suho. It was the last thing he’d wanted to do. It didn’t even matter that he hadn’t intended to, or that Infinite’s opinion hadn’t changed. Suho felt humiliated, and D.O. was sick with shame. “I’m sorry, hyung, you’re none of those things.”
Suho suddenly looked so grim and furious that D.O. wanted to back away. “Do Kyungsoo. Is that why you saw Changjo? Is that what you talked to him about? You met him to ask his intentions?”
D.O. swallowed and thought about lying.
“Our sunbaes!” Suho shouted. “My dongsaengs! Is this how much you respect your leader? Is this how little you think of me? You’ll be leader from now on, is that it? You’ll be EXO’s leader. You’ll make the decisions. I won’t even be hyung anymore, I can’t be trusted.”
“I understand,” Suho said. “Go and tell the other members. You’re our leader now.”
“I don’t want to be leader! You’re our leader!”
“I’m the leader of nothing if my own members can’t trust me. If you treat me this way in front of our sunbaes, if you have to interview my dongsaengs-”
“I care about you! They’re shady, manipulative, cosplaying jerks! I wanted to make sure that they weren’t taking advantage of you!”
“I don’t care who they are!” Suho shouted, red-faced. “You don’t ever go behind my back! You don’t ever question my judgment in front of our sunbaes! Don’t you ever, ever humiliate me like this again!”
D.O. had never heard the rest of the dorm so quiet.
“It is hard enough to get sunbaes to like us and take us seriously when all anyone sees is a bunch of spoiled flower boys. Everybody wants to be our friends in public but how many of them respect us as artists? I’m doing my best, I’m working my hardest, to keep a good image. Do you think that just because Teen Top is young, their opinions don’t matter? Do you think that just because Infinite has sex with some of the members, their opinion of me can’t go down? Do you think that because they’re all our friends, they don’t talk about us with other idols? A weak leader means a weak team. If I’m weak, if my own members go around questioning my judgment-”
“It’s not like that!” D.O. couldn’t listen to this anymore. He’d wanted to protect Suho, that was all. He hadn’t worried about Suho’s judgment, he’d worried about everyone else’s intentions.
Suho stared at him, tight-lipped.
D.O. wanted to fall through the floor to get away from that look. “I’m sorry, hyung. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Should I tell you to go to your room?” Suho asked. “Should I waste my breath, when you don’t take me seriously? Go wherever you want to go,” he said, walking away. “Do whatever you want to do.” As D.O. stared in dismay, he shoved his feet into shoes and opened the door. “I’m going out.”
Suho was gone for hours.
It was plenty of time for D.O. to feel horrible and guilty. It was also plenty of time to explain everything to the members. Worried, they bickered with each other; Chen was upset with him for not trusting Suho, and Kai kept arguing that at least D.O. cared enough to look out for their leader.
Changjo texted him: Really, hyung, what did you do? There was nothing else after that, even when he texted back questions. He guessed that Suho had contacted Changjo. For comfort? Or to fix D.O.’s mistakes? Was Suho with Changjo, or with L, or somewhere else altogether?
D.O. and the rest of the members cleaned the dorm. It gave them something to do besides worry and argue. They even cleaned Suho’s room, which meant a lot of work and a lot of laundry. Sehun was quiet and cooperative. Xiumin was full of dire predictions. Chanyeol remembered that it was his night to be with Suho, and suddenly wasn’t so interested in defending D.O. against Chen anymore.
D.O. and Sehun were folding Suho’s laundry on the living room floor when Suho came home. Everyone else was suddenly deadly silent and nowhere to be seen, except for Chanyeol, who hovered nearby.
Sehun said, “Hi, Suho hyung.” Suho made a quiet noise in reply and took off his shoes. He moved like he was tired, and he barely looked up. Chanyeol said, “Hyung, uh,” and Suho said, “Not now, dongsaeng-ah, let’s talk later, all right? It’s late.”
Chanyeol said, “Sure, hyung, okay,” while Suho went into his room and closed the door.
Sehun threw a pair of socks at D.O. and mouthed, “Go in there.”
D.O. texted Changjo instead. Did you talk to Suho hyung tonight?
For the first time in hours, Changjo was there. Is he at the dorm yet? Don’t do anything stupid, hyung.
Yes, he’s here.
If he lets L hyung in, leave him alone so they can talk. If he doesn’t let L hyung in, leave him alone, things are bad.
Just when D.O. was about to text back, the door to Suho’s room opened. Suho padded out, on the phone. “It’s already so late. Is it okay with your manager?”
Sehun gave D.O. a questioning look. He drew an “L” on the floor and folded a clean undershirt. Sehun nodded and watched Suho out of the corner of his eye while he paired more socks.
“It’s okay, if you’re sure. You - - is that you?” Suho asked, as someone knocked lightly at the door. “What are you doing here already?” Lowering his phone, he opened the door.
“Was I too fast?” L asked with a broad, dimpled smile. He hugged Suho, and Suho hugged him back, and it looked like something they did a lot, even though D.O. would have sworn that it wasn’t. L came in, and Suho closed the door. “I won’t stay long.” He put his hands in his pockets and flashed a charming, confiding smile. “I just wanted to talk to you a little.”
“It’s fine,” Suho said. “Come to my room.”
L followed him in, and he closed the door. While Sehun got up and crept over toward the door, D.O. texted Changjo. L sunbae’s here.
Sehun listened at the door. D.O. went to check on the laundry. He started another load, moved wet clothes into the dryer, and brought another load of dry clothes to the front room to be folded. When he sat down, Sehun came back and sat with him. “They’re just talking.”
“About what?” D.O. asked.
“I don’t know. L sunbae laughed, but Suho hyung didn’t laugh with him.”
D.O. remembered the way L had laughed earlier that day. It wasn’t reassuring.
By the time Suho’s door opened again, D.O. felt like a zombie from lack of sleep, and Sehun had passed out on the couch. Suho seemed more relaxed than before. He walked L to the door, and they said simple things like, “Do well on your photo shoot,” and, “I’ll call you,” and L left.
After closing the door, Suho stood there for a moment, looking at the floor and pawing through his hair. Then he sighed and looked up. Noticing Sehun, he smiled a little, and D.O. had never been so relieved. If Suho was smiling again, everything would be okay.
Suho went over to the couch and patted Sehun’s shoulder. “Ya, maknae. Sehun-ah, this is no place to sleep. Up, up, now, go to bed.”
Sehun squinted at Suho, looked confused, then nodded and tried to go back to sleep.
Chuckling, Suho shook his shoulder. “Maknae, go to bed. You can’t sleep here. Go to your room.”
Making half-hearted noises of complaint, Sehun got up and shuffled off to bed.
“You, too,” Suho said, drifting in D.O.’s direction. “Go to bed, you should be asleep.”
D.O. looked up at him. He looked reserved, but not furious. Not as hurt, anymore. “Hyung-”
“You only wanted to help,” Suho said. “I understand. Next time, you’ll talk to me, not to everyone else behind my back.”
“Yes,” he said immediately. “I’m sorry, I made a mistake. I didn’t mean to cause trouble for anybody, I-”
“It’s done,” Suho said. “We can’t undo it. But it won’t happen again, will it?”
D.O. hated the weight of Suho’s gaze and the heaviness of that question. Suho wasn’t over it. He felt like he’d betrayed Suho, like he’d added some terrible burden to Suho’s life when he’d only wanted to help. “It won’t happen again, hyung, I’ll only come to you from now on. I’m sorry, this wasn’t what I wanted. It’s because I care about you.”
“Your sunbaes took your side,” Suho said. “Changjo spent all night reminding me how close I am to my members and how much I love all of you and how much I’d do for you, and that you feel the same way about me. L came here at the end of a long, busy day just to ask me not to be too hard on you. They could have been insulted by your insinuations, but they defended you. Instead of apologizing to me, you should think about apologizing to them. They know what you’ve implied about them, and they’re willing to overlook it, so I will, too. We’ll talk about the rest of it in the morning. Go to bed.”
As Suho walked away, D.O. got up. “I’m sorry, hyung. If-”
“In the morning,” Suho repeated, and closed his door.
Shit. D.O. looked down at the clean laundry surrounding his feet, then trudged to his room. Kai and Sehun were fast asleep. He sat on his bed and wondered how long it would take to get that grimness out of Suho’s expression, and what he could do about it.
He texted Changjo and L the same thing. I’m sorry for my behavior. I shouldn’t have bothered you with such rude questions. I’ll apologize again in person.
L texted back, Don’t worry about it.
Changjo texted back, We understand each other, right? We both want the same things. I hope that, no matter what, Suho hyung isn’t upset like this again.
D.O. flopped onto his back and stared at the ceiling. He’d humiliated and infuriated his leader, he had no idea what was going on with L, and he had Teen Top’s maknae sending him politely worded dire threats. From now on, if he had any questions about what people were up to, he was keeping them to himself.
September 20, 2015
by Matthew Haldeman-Time